A few years ago in Seoul, I finish pumping iron at the gym and need to wash the heavy metals off of me. I walk into the locker room and see the older Korean guy who gave me the evil eye for the past few forevers showering. Koreans can be shy when meeting new people, but they don’t really care about being naked in front of anybody.
Now, his birthday suit isn’t the big deal. The fact that he looked at mine isn’t a big deal either. He isn’t checking out my American wiener. He’s looking at my tattoos. And I’m looking at his. I really really want him to know that my tattoos (Star Wars stuff, my name, a dinosaur kicking a businessman in the nuts, etc.) aren’t gang tattoos, because I know his are. Dragons and carp decorate his arms, chest and back. Uh oh.
Koreans don’t play around with tattoos. They’re still slowly becoming accepted in society. Most folks still think only prisoners and gangsters get inked. This guy definitely isn’t trying to look cool in front of his frat buddies. He’s Jo-Pok — a Korean gang member.
This big older Korean guy checks me out again, gives me a thumbs up and says, “Oh! Tattoo!”
I’m thinking, “Please oh please oh please don’t have a knife hidden somewhere.”
You see, Jo-Pok aren’t like our gangsters. They don’t shoot people. If you owe them money, they’ll break your legs so badly you’ll never walk again. Then, they make you beg until you pay them off. If you piss off a member, they’ll lock you in a room and beat you until you’re brain damaged.
I finish up and dress as fast as possible. I really hope he understands that even though I once wore a LA Raiders hat when Ice Cube was cool, that’s about as far as my mafia life went. I want nothing to do with the Jo-Pok.
Just when I think I’m free, a gym employee walks up to me with an address saying, “Choon-Sam (not his real name) said to meet him here at 7 p.m. Sunday. You must come.”
People always ask if I regret any of my tattoos. At this moment, I’m thinking, “Yes. All of them. I’m going to die because I wanted to look cool.”
Sunday came. I dreaded it. I put on my second nicest suit (I figured I should be buried in my nicest suit). I show up at the address — a miniature octopus restaurant. I step in and hear “Kay-Shee!” Everybody looks at the mobster. Then me. Then him. Nobody eats. Moves. Breathes. About 20 people are looking at me. At least there will be witnesses. They won’t testify, but maybe somehow some good will come out of my death.
“Choon-Sam” smiles and opens his arms. Oh great. Hand-to-hand combat. I’ve done Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for five years, but against an armed gangster and his thugs, I’m screwed.
Read next week to learn how I survived!